I wanted to take this moment to write a personal note and update the community as we struggle to make sense of the events that began on October 7th – and as we wrestle with the impact here at home.
Trying times doesn’t even seem to cut it for this moment. The inhumanity we witnessed over a week ago still has us reeling. To make matters worse, the threats to our community from domestic "usual suspects" have increased and now we must listen to the news and read through social media that fighting back against Hamas is in any way morally equivalent to the calculated and brutal murder of our children and our grandparents.
We are understandably unsettled and vulnerable.
And yet, as we do so often, we go on. We must. We push ahead with gatherings, simchas, and well – life. Am Yisrael Chai! Is the refrain we hold on to and proclaim loudly and proudly.
Of course, one of the ways we move forward with events and programs with any peace of mind is by implementing security measures.
Dedicated staff and volunteers throughout our community arrange security details for our events and for our schools - all for our daily safety. They make sure our buildings are secure, that alarms and cameras are installed and in working order, and create close working relationships with local law enforcement. I have been in touch with so many of them over the past week and I think we need to be more public about the work they do - and that such measures are in place. I also want to make sure the community knows how grateful we are for the partnerships we have with local police departments and the support they provide.
In that spirit, I wanted to make the community fully aware of a development from this past weekend that has been fully resolved – and use it as an example of what often happens behind the scenes and how credible threats are distinguished from “hoaxes” or “swatting” threats aimed to mobilize law enforcement and disrupt the activities of our community.
- Reported threat from this weekend found NOT credible
- This past Friday afternoon, a synagogue in Lebanon, PA received an anonymous email that claimed in part that a bomb was in their building, and a bomb was placed in every “Jewish Center” in Pennsylvania.
- This was reported to us through our Greater Harrsiburg agency list-serve, set up just for this reason.
- We were in immediate communication with local law enforcment and our own Regional Security Advisor who is in constant communication with the FBI, the ADL, and other intelligence gathering agencies.
- Within minutes they were able to track the email and investigate any pattern or related activity.
- It was found that this email matched a pattern of similar emails that had been going around the country for months aimed at instilling fear, shutting down activity, and tying up law enforcement resources.
- We were informed in short order that this was a known email that had been used before and so it was found to NOT be a credible threat.
- We do take every threat seriously and weigh all the factors we can, like current events and law enforcment threat assesment.
- How this report impacted our Community Shabbat at Chisuk Emuna Congregation
- We were in immediate contact with leadership and organizers of the event that evening with all the information we had and decided to absolutely go on with the event with added security.
- Because of the additional factor of this day – October 13th – being termed a day of Global Jihad against Jews – we were already adding security at our campuses – and for this event.
- Also, because of this additional factor the Governor made the State Police available to houses of worship throughout the Commonwealth. In addition to local police, they were present at the event, and with local police, did a sweep of the building for added peace of mind.
- A report on PennLive about Chisuk Emuna receiving a bomb threat directly was INCORRECT. It also implied there was an evacuation which was also INCORRECT.
- Our commitment to ongoing vigilance, security coordination, and leadership
- Some of you may be aware that in August, shortly after my arrival, the Jewish Federation brought on a new Regional Security Advisor, Colonel Tim Brooks through a partnership program of the Jewish Federations of North America called Secure Communities Network (SCN for short).
- In the coming weeks and months, both Colonel Brooks and I will be in touch with the congregations and agencies to offer the guidance and assistance of SCN. This will include security assessments of our institutions, coordinating security point people in all of our organizations, and bringing them together for regular meetings and updates.
- We will be providing security focused classes and trainings for all those interested. I highly recommend that when these invitations come out – we all attend if we are able.
It is of the utmost importance that we approach our community’s security in a coherent and cordinated manner. We want to leverage all of our amazing contacts within state and local law enforcement - and for their benefit and ours - have a streamlined approach when reaching out about security concerns and emergency situations. This model of community coordination and cooperation is being followed all over North America and it is having very real and documented results. In the end, the goal is to keep us all safer, better informed, and better educated about security matters – and this program is achieving that nationwide.
I look forward to working with you all on these initiatives that we know are so vitally important. I also look forward to meeting so many more of the wonderful members of our community and being in touch about more celebratory matters in the future.
Shavuah Tov - may you all have a wonderful week!
Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg